The Crowd, History, and Videogames

The future belongs to crowds.

Don DeLillo observes this in Mao II (1991), as his characters watch a mass wedding of six thousand couples in Yankee Stadium. In light of the Occupy Movement, los indignados, the Arab Spring, and ongoing protests and marches throughout the world, it’s tempting to say that the future is here.

But the truth is, even in 1991, the future had already arrived—a point DeLillo stresses in his novel with his depictions of the tent city in Tompkins Square Park in New York City and the masses of mourners at the Ayatollah Khomeini’s funeral in Iran. And much, much farther back in time, crowds were already powerful forces, threatening forces. In 1895 Gustave Le Bon went so far as to claim, “Crowds are only powerful for destruction.”

I would like to think Le Bon is wrong, but regardless of whether crowds are creative or destructive, we must acknowledge, history belongs to crowds.

Which brings me to a question: why don’t videogames “do” crowds? And more to the point for Play the Past, why don’t videogames that treat historical subjects represent crowds? I don’t mean the city streets of Florence in Assassin’s Creed 2, which are crowded but not a crowd. I mean a full-fledged pulsating mass, a throbbing throng of bodies, dense and alive. A crowd that, as Elias Canetti puts it in Crowds and Power, “as soon as it exists at all, it want to consist of more people.” Where are the crowds like that in videogames?

I asked this on Twitter last spring and received some responses (embedded here), but I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Technical limitations aside, are there reasons why the historical fact of crowds is missing in historical videogames?

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Dressmakers’ Strike image courtesy of the Kheel Center at Cornell University / Creative Commons Licensed

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